The terror threat to Manila is expected to remain high despite the arrest of Fehmi Lassqued, an Egyptian Islamic State “recruiter,” after his apartment in Manila was raided on 18 Feb 2018. Lassqued is said to have been a “government negotiator” and “commander” for IS in Syria, and had entered Manila from Iran as early as 2016 with the use of a fake Tunisian passport. Philippine National Police (PNP) later stated the presence of several “safe havens” in Manila.
As a senior IS official, Lassqued’s presence within the Philippines highlights the underlying connections that the terror group has established in South East Asia, after declaring the Philippines as an IS province in Apr 2016. Despite the recent liberation of Marawi in Oct 2017, reports suggest that remnants of the IS affiliated Maute Group have been reorganising in the Lanao del Sur province in Mindanao. The group’s current leader, Abu Dar, has reportedly gathered 250 additional recruits by end Jan 2018. Six soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) were killed in a recent skirmish with Maute members on 20 Jan 2018.
The lingering terror threat that the Mindanao region faces was met with an extension of martial law that was granted by Congress in Dec 2017, and later upheld by the Supreme Court in Feb 2018. The extension, which was requested by President Duterte, intends to provide the AFP with greater capacity to combat terrorism and armed resistance groups such as the communist New People’s Army (NPA).
The prospect of armed violence being committed by Islamist terror groups, self-radicalised individuals or the violent organisations such as the NPA means that the situation in Manila continues to be volatile. Government crackdowns on either of these organisations may further aggravate and prompt a violent retaliation by any of the parties mentioned.